Venezuela now teeters on the brink of civil war following a sham election that will turn the country into a socialist dictatorship led by Nicolas Maduro.
Over a dozen people were killed over the weekend during voting to elect the members of the “constituents’ assembly,” an illegal parallel legislature made up entirely of socialist supporters of dictator Nicolás Maduro tasked with rewriting the country’s constitution. Without the opposition-held, democratically-elected National Assembly, Venezuela will slide into de jure dictatorship after years of what the opposition has alleged has been functional, but de facto, dictatorship.
The result also brings Venezuela a step closer to outright civil war as the country braces for more violent protests between the people, the government, and their military apparatus. According to Venezuelan outlet RunRunes, 125 people have been killed in the violence since April.
The Venezuelan government has consistently signaled it is willing to protect the “Bolivarian revolution” with firearms, as seen by increasing brutality from security forces, who regularly use rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas against protesters.
On the contrary, El Nacional reports that opposition leaders will pursue legal and legislative means to challenge the election.
“We will do what we can to defend ourselves,” said opposition leader Freddy Guevara. “However, we are not violent and we are not harmed. If they are going to take us out, they can, they have the firepower. It will be them who take us out, while we will maintain our resistance.”
According to opposition leaders, turnout for the election was around 15 percent, while Maduro and government officials claimed it was 41.5 percent, approximately eight million people. On Sunday evening, Maduro claimed victory, hailing the poll as “the biggest vote the Bolivarian revolution has ever had in all 18-year electoral history” arguing that the result would bring “reconciliation and peace” to the country.
“Participation today will not reach the required 15 percent turnout to legitimize the result, states the constitution,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles wrote on Twitter. “You failed Maduro!”
Another video Capriles shared showed some of Sunday’s violence, in which 15 people died including a candidate and two teenagers, while state television channel VTV claimed the election went by with “complete normalcy” with “99 percent of people calmly voting since the early hours.”
With political tensions at an all-time high, the country also teeters on the edge of a full-scale humanitarian crisis, as fewer and fewer Venezuelans can afford basic resources such as food, medicine, and sanitary products amid skyrocketing inflation. According to dolartoday.com, which monitors the country’s unofficial exchange rate, the Venezuelan Bolivar fell a further 10 percent on Monday and has lost over 99.9 percent of its value since 2010.
Data recorded last year found that a majority of Venezuelans go to bed hungry, while 15 percent of people scavenge for food in the garbage just to survive. An annual survey on Venezuelan living conditions in May also revealed nearly 75 percent of respondents lost an average of 19 pounds unintentionally in the past year, and 82 percent of households live in poverty.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley condemned the vote as a “sham election” and a “step towards dictatorship,” while numerous other nations, including neighboring Colombia, claimed they would not recognize the result.
As a result, the Trump administration is reportedly considering additional sanctions against the Venezuelan government’s vital oil industry, although they are not likely to include a ban on Venezuelan oil shipments to the United States, according to Reuters.
Following the result of a referendum this month in which an overwhelming majority of Venezuelans rejected Maduro’s plan to create a “constituent assembly,” Trump warned that the United States would “not stand by as Venezuela crumbles” and would impose “strong and swift economic actions” should the plan go ahead.
“Yesterday, the Venezuelan people again made clear that they stand for democracy, freedom, and rule of law. Yet their strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator,” he said in a statement.
The White House is yet to comment on Sunday’s election.